Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Thunderbolt's Triumphant Return to Coney Island!

The resurgence of amusements in Coney Island has been a welcome change for ride fans, but the cherry on top came this year when Luna Park opened the brand new Thunderbolt.

When Zamperla and Central Amusement Int (CAI) opened the brand new Luna Park in 2010 a new era of rides in the seaside paradise of Coney Island began.  Before long the Scream Zone was added, bringing two production model coasters to the area, along with go-karts and a Skycoaster.  With energy and visitation building the timing was right to go big, and that's just what park operators did for the area's 5th operating season.

Set on the land that was once home to the original Thunderbolt, a new steel roller coaster has been added to the list of Coney Island's rides.  While the original was a wooden ride, the new Thunderbolt is a steel design that occupies and extremely narrow but long plot of land.  The coaster is the first custom design to go up in Coney Island in decades, and though it is down the boardwalk just a tad from the other rides folks are lining up in droves to try it out.

The new ride has been manufactured by Zamperla, and represents a brand new coaster design for the company.  Not that they are new to roller coasters, as their ride catalog already features a mix of kiddie and family rides along with the flying Volare and launched Moto Coaster rides.  But the Thunderbolt is a new style, featuring individual cars that encounter a vertical lift and drop, several inversions, and a few moments of crazy air-time, too.  It's bigger than most of what the company has done before, and for a prototype gives a great ride experience.

So what's the ride all about? Here the short version, in video form:

Looks like fun, right?  Let's dig a bit deeper and look at what the new Thunderbolt has to offer.

As far as statistics go, the first vertical lift hill stands at 115 feet and drops roughly the same immediately after.  One minute you're comfortably staring up at the sky, then suddenly you're horizontal, and even more suddenly you swoop down to vertical and plunge toward the ground below.  The ride's individual cars sit three across, three rows deep for a total of 9 passengers per car.  The seats features restraints that sit tight over your lap, removing the need for typical over the shoulder restraints.  There are two straps that come over your chest, but they are unobtrusive and I honestly didn't feel them at all during the ride.  The design of the car aside from the seats is minimal, with no sides at all and a small front plate adorned with the ride's logo.

The the free fall of the cars is slowed by the pullout from the drop, but it isn't long before you're pointed toward the sky again.  The first inverting element on Thunderbolt is a large vertical loop, which features some great hang-time at the top due to the slowing of the train.  The feeling is brief, however, because as the train falls once more it picks up more speed for the rest of the course.

A large heart-line roll follows the vertical loop, featuring a quick snap at the top as the train inverts.  These elements are always rather pretty when viewed from the side, so that's why I decided to include this view, which was actually taken far away from beyond the Scream Zone.

After the riders make it through the heart-line roll they get a break from upside-down and encounter the above 'Stengel Dive."  Ever since I first saw this element on rides such as Goliath I knew it looked like a ton of fun - like a large air-time hill that turns on its side at the top.

The sensation is as you would expect, a bit of negative-g along with the odd sensation of being banked heavily to your left.  The train glides smoothly through the element, while riders can prepare for what's next.  Also of note is the lack of supports for a decent sized segment of track, which makes for neat photos like the one above.

The turnaround element on the Thunderbolt changed a couple times in preview photos during this past winter, and I'm really happy with the element they stuck with in the end.  The train heads up into a large corkscrew, but then once inverted immediately starts to dive downward toward the ground.  The train is still moving at a good clip at this point, so the entire twisted element is taken quickly, which is extra disorienting.

Immediately after the inversion turn-around, the train hits an air-time hill at a great speed, and that hill gives some serious negative-gs!  If you look at the photo above you can see that the riders are in full 'hair-time' mode, showing just how forcefully the train pulls you down.  It's definitely one of the great parts of the ride.

The Thunderbolt then hits a second air-time hill, followed by a corkscrew taken close to the ground.  The train spins its way through the inversion, the 4th if you're counting, gives one more pop of air on a final hill and makes its way into the brakes.  The ride is fast and intense, and although you can see the layout clearly from around the ride the experience leaves riders unsure of exactly what will come next.

I wanted to include this shot of the area surrounding the boardwalk in Coney Island to show just how nice it has become over the past few years.  For a long time many would have looked at me sideways when I said I wanted to go to Coney Island, but now so much has changed for the better.  Just going off the amount of English accents we heard while walking around, it seems the tourists have come back in a major way, too.

While Thunderbolt is the star attraction this year, there's been plenty going on as far as development goes in recent Summers as well.  Here is the B&B Carousell, which has been fully restored and given a home fitting of Coney Island.  The area behind it and before the famous parachute tower now has a great pop-jet water fountain, which kids (and some adults) were loving when we visited.

It wouldn't have been a visit to Coney Island without a trip in the dark on the Spook-a-Rama.  The classic pretzel style dark ride is filled with gags that will remind you of those in Knoebels' Haunted Mansion.  The ride is a part of Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, located down on the street level.  If you're a fan of classic dark rides then this is one not to miss.

New this year at neighboring Luna Park is the Luna 360, a brand new ride designed by Zamperla.  Back when the company opened the park they promised to show off new rides there first, and they've kept good on their word.  The Luna 360 is a fully inverting pendulum ride that features floorless seats attached to a spinning gondola.

The ride starts spinning as soon as it is dispatched, and the swinging gains momentum until riders are totally upside down.  The ride is certainly one for the brave, and while not my cup of tea it is certainly fun to watch!

Last year Luna Park premiered a new family ride, Water Mania.  The ride is essentially two sets of tea cups over a bed of water - complete with water blasters for those on board.  Needless to say when the attraction is over not many leave Water Mania dry.  Unfortunately the ride was down when we visited, so I was not able to see the fun in action.  In the background is the Cyclone, which also received more new track this year, continuing its multi-year refurbishment.

With so many new rides, attractions, food, games and more... you'd think that perhaps Coney Island is filled at this point.  No, alas there is still a giant open space directly between the Thunderbolt and the Brooklyn Cyclones' stadium.  And what's rumored to show up here before too long?  A water park, that's what!

Hopefully this story entices you to check out Coney Island, and take a spin on the new Thunderbolt - and world-famous Cyclone, too!